GCSAA welcomes inaugural Women's Leadership Academy

Women are increasingly finding their place in the turf industry, including this upcoming professional development event.


Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
The inaugural Women’s Leadership Academy will take place Nov. 7-9 at GCSAA headquarters in Lawrence, Kan. Forty women turfgrass professionals from around the country were selected to take part in the professional development event. Photo illustration by kasto/Adobe Stock

Among GCSAA’s over 20,000 worldwide members, just under 2 1/2% — 472, to be exact — are women. But as the last few years have shown in the male-dominated golf course management industry, big things can come in small packages.

Women turfgrass managers are having a moment on golf courses, sports fields and research stations across the country. They’ve rallied around the Women in Turf movement to provide volunteer maintenance services at the past three U.S. Women’s Opens. The Ladies Leading Turf education program and reception have become fixtures at GCSAA’s Conference and Trade Show.

And this month, efforts to make the industry more welcoming and inclusive to even more women will pass another milestone with the inaugural GCSAA Women’s Leadership Academy, set for Nov. 7-9 at the association’s headquarters in Lawrence, Kan.

This education and networking event is designed to break down barriers and enhance participants’ inner skills to maximize their impact as leaders. Education will focus on key areas of self-discovery, understanding and inspiring others, and effective communication, in addition to sessions on wellness, talent optimization, human resources and more.

“Women make up a growing segment of the industry, and the GCSAA Women’s Leadership Academy offers the opportunity to help these professionals sharpen their leadership skills, which they can use to improve their facilities, careers and communities,” says GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans.

The Women’s Leadership Academy is hosted and paid for by GCSAA with support from a host of industry partners, including The Toro Co., Nufarm and Yamaha, who are supporting the event as Trailblazer benefactors. Club Car and PBI-Gordon are Pathfinder benefactors, while Target Specialty Products is a Flag Bearer benefactor.

The event is endorsed by the Sports Field Management Association.

Below are excerpts taken from the applications for the Women’s Leadership Academy from some of the 40 turfgrass professionals selected to be a part of the first event who share their thoughts on what it’s like being a woman working in turfgrass management and what they hope to get out of their experience in Lawrence. These are reprinted with permission.

For more information on the GCSAA Women’s Leadership Academy, visit https://bit.ly/3NOaAIc.

Kathryn Lifke


Trappers Turn Golf Course

Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

As a woman in the turfgrass industry, I have experienced success as well as challenges. Going into the industry, I knew there would be more challenges because of my gender. However, I embraced those challenges. Even though I occasionally received pushback, criticism and double standards from people in the industry, I also experienced support and encouragement from others to help me keep moving forward and prove myself.

My goal (for the WLA) is to create new, supportive relationships with other women in this industry. Being a female in a male-dominated profession has its challenges, and it would be nice to reach out to other women who deal with the same issues in this industry and be able to get their feedback or opinions on how they deal with certain situations. I also want to hear from other women on how they keep/maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Heather Schapals


Seascape Golf Club

Aptos, Calif.

My experiences in the industry have had ups and downs. I started out with an amazing mentor who tirelessly answered my questions and encouraged me to push past the boundaries of my own comfort zone. I grew in confidence and had great passion for the work that I did.  After his dismissal from that course, I honestly felt a little lost. But with encouragement from someone I became close to, I broke out of that situation. This person is now my husband and has helped me grow my career by being willing to set his own aside because he also believes that more women should be in the industry.

This (WLA) experience will put me in a position to network with other women who are leaders in the industry. From focused discussions, I hope to learn more about how, as a woman, I can help draw in and retain other women on my staff and how to reach out as a mentor or role model for women already in the industry.  I feel one of the most important things that I can do as a leader is continue to work hard at creating a work environment that is positive and inclusive.

Maritza Martinez

Associate director of stadium grounds

St. Louis City S.C.

St. Louis

I aspire to be an ethical leader in the turfgrass industry someday. Being a woman and being a leader is simply not enough. I am in line to become one of the first women to be a head groundskeeper in Major League Soccer.  If I’m not a good or ethical leader, that title is not nearly enough. I hope to gain inspiration and knowledge on how to step beyond. How can I do more? How can I be more? And more importantly, how can I provide more to my future staff?

Raquel Schwartz

Assistant superintendent

Stone Harbor Golf Club

Cape May Court House, N.J.

I have been with my current boss, Jay Ewan (GCSAA Class A director of agronomy), since early 2020. It is impossible to talk about my experience in the industry without mentioning him. Before Jay, I had to constantly outperform my male colleagues, just to get a fraction of their opportunities. Jay ... respected me, challenged me and took me seriously in a way no employer ever had. When men ask what they can do to help women in the industry, it is exactly this. Hire them. Mentor them. And advocate for them.

Through this experience, I’d like to gain tips to make me more confident in myself on my path to becoming a superintendent. I have a small community of local women assistants and superintendents in my area, and the experience and stories of those who came before me have been absolutely vital in navigating the challenges of working in a “man’s world.”

Amy Wilber

Extension associate

Mississippi State University

Starkville, Miss.

As an undergraduate turfgrass student, I was typically one of two female students in my classes. At times, it was a bit isolating, as the males cliqued easily, and I felt that I had to prove my worth to earn my place. In my first internship, I was one of two women on the maintenance staff. I tried my hardest to prove that I was just as good as any of the other guys despite not being as big and strong physically. I often stayed later than other employees, just to prove I could contribute to the team.

(At the Women’s Leadership Academy) I hope to gain a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses regarding leadership and communication. I hope to learn about different leadership approaches, and when to implement each one. I expect to meet women from diverse backgrounds and make connections that will inspire me to make the industry better.